Welcome to Cozy Wednesday!
I am so happy to welcome Barbara Monajem to Escape With Dollycas today!
Tracking Down a Poison Pen
by Barbara Monajem
If you lived two hundred years ago and someone sent you poison pen letters, how would you go about identifying your anonymous letter writer?
Lady Rosamund Phipps had to do this in Lady Rosamund and the Poison Pen. She didn’t know why she was receiving the horrid letters, but each one was more menacing than the last. She had to find out who was sending them, and why.
The first clue was the handwriting – but it was all in capitals, which makes it much harder to recognize than normal cursive. Not much of a clue, unfortunately.
The second clue was the postmark. Yes, they had postmarks in England in 1811 – and quite a bit earlier, actually. Unfortunately, the postmark also proved far less useful than she (and I) hoped. By the time of the Regency, all London mail went through the Chief Post Office in Lombard Street. That wasn’t much help to Lady Rosamund, since London was and is a big city, and she knew many people there, some of whom disliked her.
Her third clue was the paper the poison pen used. Paper was expensive back then. Made from linen and cotton rags, it was sold in various sizes and quantities. The letters Lady Rosamund received were written on foolscap. This was not the well-known foolscap of not so long ago (which we now call legal size), but 16.5 x 13.25 inches. Since paper was too costly to waste, it was often cut it into half and quarter sheets, so as to use only as much as was needed. People also crossed and re-crossed their letters—in other words, they wrote on top of what they had already written, but in the opposite direction, and even diagonally. It’s unbelievably hard to read, at least to modern eyes, but it certainly goes to show how expensive both paper and postage were at the time.
Lady Rosamund’s horrid correspondent wasn’t the thrifty sort. He (or she) used a half-sheet of foolscap for a single nasty sentence! Was she (or he) a wealthy person who could afford wastage? Or a servant who enjoyed wasting an unpleasant employer’s paper? Or some other possibility that Lady Rosamund didn’t think of?
The fourth clue was the seal. Since there were no envelopes yet, letters were folded and sealed. Sealing wax was melted with a wax jack or a bougie box, both of which held long coils of wax, of which a small amount could be melted at a time. Sticks of sealing wax were also available. A blob of melted wax would be dropped onto the folded letter and pressed flat with a seal. Instead of the usual red, the anonymous letters were sealed in black, which was used for mourning. A poison pen letter was bad enough, but worse when sealed in a color that hinted of death.
The design on the seal itself was more promising. Often seals would have a family crest or some other method of identifying the sender. The seal the poison pen used was very strange indeed – it looked like a cow with a shaggy coat. At last, a good, solid clue. The unusual seal gave Lady Rosamund the start she needed to track down the poison pen.
Thank you Barbara for visiting today!
About Lady Rosamund and the Poison Pen:
A Rosie and McBrae Mystery
Lady Rosamund and the Poison Pen: A Rosie and McBrae Mystery
Historical Cozy Mystery
1st in Series
Publisher: Level Best Books (April 21, 2020)
Paperback: 244 pages
Digital ASIN: B087BBLLNL
Lady Rosamund Phipps, daughter of an earl, has a secret. Well, more than one. Such as the fact that she’s so uninterested in sex that she married a man who promised to leave her alone and stick to his mistress. And a secret only her family knows—the mortifying compulsion to check things over and over. Society condemns people like her to asylums. But when she discovers the dead body of a footman on the stairs, everything she’s tried to hide for years may be spilled out in broad daylight.
First the anonymous caricaturist, Corvus, implicates Lady Rosamund in a series of scandalous prints. Worse, though, are the poison pen letters that indicate someone knows the shameful secret of her compulsions. She cannot do detective work on her own without seeming odder than she already is, but she has no choice if she is to unmask both Corvus and the poison pen.
Lady Rosamund Phipps has herself wrapped up in a sticky wicket. Her footman either fell or was pushed to his death in her home, an anonymous caricaturist is posting outrageous prints featuring her, her family and friends, and someone is sending her threatening letter in hopes to send her over the edge.
Lady Rosamund is a willful, independent woman who knows what she wants and will go to great lengths to get it. She also has a severe case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder although not yet in the mainstream at the time of this story. The malady is serious because she could be locked away easily. She is in a marriage of convenience which is perfectly fine with her. She and her husband support each other and attend important events as he desires a political career. Her husband also has a mistress, Rosie’s best friend but she is fine with that too. Her mother does come into their home to address the perception of the drawings on her family and basically curtails most of Rosie’s visits, teas, and parties, even making her stay home and eat invalid rations. Her brother also makes an appearance trying to get to go to the country until things settle down We also met several members of the class and the staff. All the characters are cleverly written.
This is a unique story as Rosie tries to chase down clues to the poison pen letter and the drawings. She doesn’t focus too much on the footman at first. She gets help from some unusual people that kept the story moving along and fresh. I did hone in the caricaturist very early in the story. A historical cozy Regency mystery with a twist. There are some adult themes. The author used her words beautifully in setting each scene taking readers right there with her. I was surprised by the ending and a little heartbroken.
Lady Rosamund and the Poison Pen is really the story of a woman’s journey with 3 mysteries blended together. While not my typical read I did enjoy this one very much and look forward to reading more by this author.
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About Barbara Monjem
Winner of the Holt Medallion, Maggie, Daphne du Maurier, Reviewer’s Choice and Epic awards, Barbara Monajem wrote her first story at eight years old about apple tree gnomes. She published a middle-grade fantasy when her children were young. When they grew up, she turned to writing for adults, first the Bayou Gavotte paranormal mysteries and then Regency romances with intrepid heroines and long-suffering heroes (or vice versa). Some of her Regencies have magic in them and some don’t (except for the magic of love, which is in every story she writes).
Barbara loves to cook, especially soups, and is an avid reader. There are only two items on her bucket list: to make asparagus pudding and succeed at knitting socks. She’ll manage the first but doubts she’ll ever accomplish the second. This is not a bid for immortality but merely the dismal truth. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”